Commentary

The Fall Is Full Of Marketing Opportunities. YES!

According to a new study, the Holiday Email Marketing Guide from Lifecycle Marketing and the Yesmail360 platform, a holiday season is often the busiest and most lucrative time of the year for many brands. In 2016, holiday sales increased by 4% over 2015, generating revenue of $658.3 billion. In addition, online sales increased by 12.6% year-over-year showing that holiday shopping is transforming with the shift to ecommerce.

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To help brands capitalize on trends as they plan their 2017 holiday email marketing initiatives, Yes Lifecycle Marketing analyzed almost 8 billion emails sent in Q4 2016 via its Yesmail360 platform.

 In addition to engagement and conversion rates, the study looked at day of the week performance and offer type to determine the effectiveness of holiday-themed campaigns, Key Findings showed that:

  • In Q4 2016, holiday-themed emails generated lower open rates than standard campaigns
  • Despite lower engagement rates, themed emails that featured 6 out of the 9 Q4 events generated higher conversion rates than standard emails 
  • Green Monday was utilized by only 6% of brands, yet it generated 50% higher conversion rates than standard emails 
  • For all holidays, themed emails without a specific offer in the subject line generated the highest open rates, but those with a clear incentive drove the highest conversions.

The general holiday theme was most widely adopted throughout Q4; it applied broadly to the holiday season and spirit of celebration without specifying a particular event. Alternatively, Green Monday was the least utilized event, yet Green Monday emails generated some of the strongest engagement and conversion rates.  

In Q4 2016, holiday campaigns, regardless of their theme, generated lower open rates than the 14.6% open rate average for BAU (Business As Usual) messages. A look beyond initial engagement revealed that themed emails incorporating 6 of the 9 major Q4 holidays and events generated higher conversion rates than the 4% average of BAU campaigns.

One reason for these potentially counter-intuitive findings could be that many brands highlighted specific holidays without considering how to relate them to their products and/or audience.

Columbus Day marked the first holiday of the 4th quarter of 2016. With only an 11% adoption rate, it was not as popular as other holidays in Q4. Despite slightly lower engagement rates compared to standard emails, Columbus Day campaigns generated almost double the conversion rate of BAU messages with 7.4% vs 4.0% of unique clicks leading to a purchase. 

Campaigns that advertised a ‘% off’ discount in their subject lines generated conversion rates that beat the Columbus Day average by 11%. Even though their open rates were lower than those of messages without specific offers, they generated a conversion rate of 8.2%, indicating that emails with specific offers can successfully drive purchases from subscribers who are ready to convert.  

Halloween Monday, October 31. With a total of $8.4 billion in revenue, Halloween hit an all-time high in consumer spending in 2016. This indicates that shoppers were excited to welcome the first fun holiday of the fall season, yet only 27% of marketers sent Halloween emails in 2016.  

Thanksgiving Thursday, November 24. A traditional holiday centered around celebrating with family and friends, Thanksgiving is one of the few events in Q4 that does not specifically focus on holiday shopping. Only a quarter of marketers sent Thanksgiving emails in 2016 and those messages generated both lower engagement and conversion rates compared to BAU emails.  

Black Friday is arguably one of the most effective revenue-generating events of the year, along with Cyber Monday. The email channel plays a huge role in driving Black Friday sales so it comes as no surprise that a third of marketers incorporate the event in their Q4 campaigns. 

Cyber Monday Monday, November 28. Despite the high open rates of Thursday Cyber Monday emails, their conversion rate was almost three times lower than that of campaigns sent on the actual day of the event (Monday). This could be due to the promised deals not meeting subscriber expectations or low inventory of desired items. With 13.6% of clicks resulting in a purchase, conversion rates on the actual  

Cyber Monday outperformed the holiday average by 46%. This is particularly notable considering that 39% of all Cyber Monday emails were sent on Cyber Monday itself. 

Green Monday Monday, December 12. Green Monday falls on the second Monday in December and refers to the best sales day of the month (originally coined by eBay as their busiest sales day in December).5 In 2016, it generated a total of $1.62 billion in sales6 but only 6% of brands sent out Green Monday campaigns.  These emails generated 8% lower open rates compared to BAU emails but had 50% higher conversion rates.  

Christmas Sunday, December 25  According to a 2016 National Retail Federation survey, consumers spent approximately $588.90 on Christmas gifts for family and friends last year. The same survey states that two-thirds of consumers took advantage of Super Saturday (the last Saturday before Christmas Eve) to complete their holiday shopping.

New Year’s Day Sunday, January 1, 2017  As the year came to a close and holiday shopping was winding down, many brands opted to exclude New Year emails from their 2016 mailing program; only 21% of brands took advantage of the New Year holiday to connect with subscribers.  Only 35% of all New Year emails were deployed prior to New Year’s Day, mostly in the days after Christmas. They generally focused on a celebratory greeting, end-of-year clearance sales, promotions around retail and consumer products for New Year’s Eve parties, or topics related to New Year’s resolutions. These themed campaigns generated both lower engagement and lower conversion rates compared to BAU emails.  

These figures illustrate that holiday shopping continues to be a priority up until the final days leading up to the holiday. Interestingly, only 29% of brands sent out Christmas emails in 2016. This seemingly low use of the Christmas theme could be a result of the high adoption rate of the General Holiday theme in brand communications which was used by 55% of brands in 2016.

To make the most of the season, marketers should keep these three best practices when preparing for their fourth quarter campaigns, says the report.

  • Creating relevant messaging around the holidays is key to consumer engagement, so identifying the holidays that subscribers value most, is an important first step
  • Create urgency:  Beyond the initial open, getting subscribers to click on an email requires creative that compels action. To increase conversions, marketers can include a strong offer and pair it with a subject line that conveys urgency
  • Finally, as mobile purchasing continues to grow, marketers need to make the mobile experience a top priority. Deploying emails with concise subject lines and eye-catching calls-to-action that drive consumers to an intuitive mobile app or mobile site will provide a seamless purchase experience and minimize attrition from on-the-go shoppers

All in all, the general performance of holiday emails in 2016 highlights the importance of creating emails that truly resonate with subscribers. Marketers who plan on developing an audience-focused holiday plan well in advance of Q4 would be positioned to drive the greatest conversions and ROI throughout the critical season.  

A report spanning all of the holidays in the Fall is rich with data and recommendations. To access and appreciate the complete report, please visit here.

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